Dionysus was the God of wine, theatre, vegetation and ecstasy in Ancient Greek mythology, represented by a leopard, a drinking cup, a fruit vine, and a thyrsos. According to Ancient Greek scripts, he was worshipped by Mycenean Greeks from 1500-1100 BC. Where he came from is uncertain, but his clans took many different forms. In some, he arrives from the east as a foreigner, and in others he arrives from the south. He is known as “the god that comes” and his foreignness is essential to his cults.
As an important figure in Ancient Greek history, he is listed as one of the twelve major deities of Greek mythology. Born to Zeus, the king of the gods, and Semele, a mortal woman, Dionysus’ birth conjured difficulty in fitting him into the Greek pantheon. Semele was a daughter of Cadmus, the first king of Thebes, famous for her extraordinary beauty and grace.
When Zeus, the King of the gods, saw the princess, he fell in love with her. Soon Semele became pregnant by Zeus, but Zeus’ jealous wife Hera begrudged Semele’s pregnancy and tried to destroy her, so she planted seeds of doubt and made her very suspicious of Zeus’ divine nature.
At the time, Zeus was deepy in love with Semele. To please her, he swore on the sacred river of the gods to make any of her wishes come true. Semele asked Zeus to reveal all of his dignity through his thunderbolts and lightening. Zeus tried to hold back but he had already made a sacred oath and was forced to obey Semele’s order. Zeus revealed himself, his lightening immediately appeared and anything that his thunder bolts touched shook and were wrapped in fire, including the beautiful Semele.
She was burned to death because any mortal to see a deity in all of his dignity was cursed to die. At the time, Dionysus was still in his dead mother’s womb. However, Zeus was able to rescue the infant by binding him in his thigh until he was to be born. He handed his baby his messenger, Hermes, who brought the bay to Semele’s sister and her husband. This was the couple that Zeus had chosen to raise his newborn child. Dionysus led a life of delight and happiness. He attracted a devoted group of female followers called Maenads. They were often drunk and acted without morals.
The name Maenads literally translates to “raving ones”. Dionysus was fun-loving, irresponsible, and wild. He was often accompanied by satyrs, humanoid creatures with the ears and tail of a horse. The satyrs were experts at making wine. They passed this knowledge on to Dionysus, and he in turn taught it to the people he came across on his travels. One day, Dionysus had fallen in love with Ariadne, the goddess of passion and labyrinths. Ariadne had been in love with Theseus. Theseus had volunteered to slay the Minotaur, which broke her heart to think he would die.
She spoke with Daedalus, and he gave her some yarn to guide him out. She thanked him, and gave it to Theseus. Theseus ended up slaying the minotaur, and came out from the Labyrinth thanks to the ball of yarn. Theseus took Ariadne with him back to Athens, before Minos could kill them. Theseus, however grew bored of her, and brought her to an island. They fell asleep that night and Theseus left early in the morning, before Ariadne had woken up. Days later, Ariadne was at near death and had been crying for days. She had given up everything for Theseus, who had left her to die. Dionysus saw her.
Not only did he ache for her but also loved her. He went down and brought her to civilization. The two were soon married. Eventually, they had children. There were many children, but some of Dionysus’ most famous children were Priapus, Phthonus, and Deianira. Priapus was a minor rustic fertility god, and protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens, and male genetalia. Phthonus was the personification of jealousy and envy. Deianira was the second wife of Hercules. Her name means “destroyer of her husband. Deianira had killed her husband, Hercules using the poisoned Tunic of Nessus.